Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



US girl group, a vocal trio formed in NYC in 1959: sisters Veronica (b 10 August 1943) and Estelle Bennett (b 22 July 1944; found dead at home of colon concer 11 February 2009 in Englewood NJ) asnd their cousin Nedra Talley (b 27 January 1946). They began as a dance act, the Dolly Sisters; early singles as Ronnie and the Relatives on Col-Pix failed; they were resident dancers at the Peppermint Lounge and appeared with disc jockey Clay Cole in Twist Around The Clock '61; when the twist dance fad wore out they were spotted by Phil Spector and signed to his Philles label in 1963: first single and biggest hit 'Be My Baby' was no. 2 USA/4 UK, with Spector's everything-but-the-kitchen-sink production style including castanets, strings, etc. They alternated between aching teen ballads and up-tempo boomers like the first; 'Baby I Love You' was no. 24 USA/11 UK '63; 'Do I Love You' top 40 both USA/UK, '(The Best Part Of) Breaking Up' and 'Walking In The Rain' top 40 USA '64.

They topped a UK package bill with the Rolling Stones in 1964, but their star waned; two singles the next year did not make the USA top 40, their last chart entry '66 (turned over to producer Jeff Barry) barely made the Hot 100, despite good songs from Anders and Poncia, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. Estelle was devastated when the original trio split, it was said; she had attended the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and had a flair for style that influenced the trio's sophisticated image. She made a few solo recordings, then left music and struggled with unhappiness.

Ronnie was married to Spector '68-74 (and published a memoir Be My Baby '90). In 1973, as she and Spector were about to divorce, she returned to performing after a hiatus, her new Ronettes including Denise Edwards and Chip Fields; that trio issued two singles on the Buddah label. She had connections with George Harrison (covered his 'Try Some Buy Some'), Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes (sang live with them and on first LP '76) and Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band (covered Billy Joels's 'Say Goodbye To Hollywood' '77); she had the respect of fellow artists but no chart hits.In 1988, the original Ronettes sued Spector, seeking $10 million in what they said were unpaid royalties and income made from licensing the group’s songs to movies and commercials; they said that they had received only one payment from Spector, for $14,482.30. Ronnie couldn't sing her hit 'Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)' late '96 because Spector wouldn't let her. The group lost the licensing part of the case but were said to have collected more than $1 million in royalties after many years of litigation.

The Ronettes were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2004. It was widely believed that Spector as a member of the board of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame had prevented the Ronettes from being nominated for induction there because of Spector's acrimonious divorce, and because of the ongoing suit for back royalties; but while Spector was awaiting trial on a murder charge and out on $1 million bail, the Ronettes were finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on 12 March 2007, at Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in NYC.The sisters performed; Estelle did not, but she was as happy as she had been for years.